On 30 November a new public Register of Crofts will be introduced, with the aim of eventually building an accurate list of every croft in the country. This new database is intended to provide a fast and simple solution to costly and time-consuming disputes over land ownership and croft tenancy rights.
Maintained by the Registers of Scotland, the new Register will set out the exact extent of crofts according to the Ordnance Survey Map, along with details of who owns the land and who occupies each croft. It will also list common grazings and runrig. Everyone will be able to view it free online at www.crofts.ros.gov.uk.
One of the perceived advantages of the new Register of Crofts is that it will be based on the OS Map which should make it much easier to identify the specific area of land included in each croft. Many crofts do not have proper plans or bounding descriptions, which can make boundary disputes difficult to settle. Once a croft has been registered it will be possible to view details of it online and identify quickly the extent of the tenancy.
Individual crofters will gain most from the Register. In the past, major problems have arisen because tenancies were not documented in writing, so a public register confirming the individual's right to occupy the croft will provide greater security. A crofter will be able to prove not only his right to occupy the croft but also his right to use common grazings. This will reduce the danger of unlawful eviction and put crofters in a much more secure position with their landlords.
Because the ownership, tenancy and extent of a croft will now be determined according to what is provided in the Register, rather than the situation on the ground, inconsistencies will doubtless arise. Land that crofters and landlords believe to be part of the croft may differ from what appears on the OS Map, and areas that have been cultivated and developed in the erroneous belief that they belonged to a particular croft will no doubt give rise to dispute. To accommodate this kind of problem, there will be a nine-month challenge period from the date of initial registration of a croft to allow disputes to go to the Scottish Land Court for adjudication. The court will have the power to order amendments to the Register.
What crofters/landlords need to do
Registration will be voluntary for the first year until November 2013. After that, a number of 'steps' will come into force to trigger registration, These include applications to the Crofting Commission to vary the legal situation of the croft, such as enlarging, dividing, de-crofting, resuming or reorganising the croft, and applications for apportioning a common grazing. Transfers of ownership or tenancy will also come into this category. Taking any of these 'steps' from 30 November this year will also require an application for registration, although this will not have to be made until after 30 November next year. The nature of the 'step' will determine who is required to apply for the registration, but generally this will be the person who is making the application or to whom the croft is being transferred or let. In cases of division or reorganisation, the Crofting Commission will be responsible for the registration. The statutory bases for these 'steps' are sections 4 & 5 of the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 2010.
Having a set of trigger steps will mean a steady trickle of applications into Register of Scotland rather than a tidal wave, and will prevent unnecessary duplication of work, such as cases where the details of a croft change shortly after it has been registered.
Anyone who is particularly keen to register their croft before it becomes compulsory to do so may be interested to know that the Registers will be running a 20% discount on the cost of applications for two or more crofts from the same township registered together.